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A Special Anniversary for Fridays at Five

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By Stephen J. Kotz

For the past 29 years, you could set your watch to “Fridays at Five, which, as its name implies, began promptly at 5 p.m. on Friday afternoons on the back lawn of the Hampton Library in Bridgehampton.

So why not throw a little curve ball when it comes time to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the long-running author lecture series sponsored by the Friends of the Hampton Library by holding the party at 4:30 p.m. this Saturday, May 10?

One thing’s for certain. If the series had been named “Saturdays at 4:30,” it probably wouldn’t still be around today.

This year’s eight-week lineup is made up of familiar faces including E.L. Doctorow, Gail Sheehy, Roger Rosenblatt, and Tom Clavin and Bob Drury, as well as newcomers Allen Salkin, Alexandra Styron, Kim Stolz, and Jon Robin Baitz.

The kickoff party will feature a roundtable discussion led by the author Steven Gaines that will focus on the past, present and future of publishing as well as the impact of “Fridays at Five” on the community. Joining Mr. Gaines in the discussion will be the authors Ms. Sheehy, Linda Bird Franke, Paul Goldberger, and publisher Bill Henderson, the owner of Pushcart Press.

“I’m hoping it will be like people sitting around the dinner table having a discussion,” Mr. Gaines said on Monday. “It’s definitely not going to be a lecture. I’m hoping it will be lots of fun and very loose.”

All the participants, he added, “have our apprehensions about where publishing is going.” That said, Mr. Gaines said he was not expecting doom and gloom.

Of the “Fridays at Five” series, at which he has appeared several times, Mr. Gaines was effusive in his praise.

“I don’t think there is anything else like in the world,” he said. “It’s just a great, great event where writers and readers come together. It’s up close, and very intimate in that beautiful backyard.”

Anne Marshall, the president of the Friends of the Hampton Library, said that “Fridays at Five” got its early start time, in part, because of a compromise reached with Elaine Benson, the owner of the eponymous gallery down the street, who typically held her own openings on Friday evenings. If the Friends held their gatherings at 5 p.m., the groups decided, Ms. Benson would hold hers at 6 p.m., allowing people to glide from one event to the next and have a pleasant way to start their weekends.

“It has developed a pretty solid following, Ms. Marshall said of “Fridays at Five.” “The time has been honored by a lot of other organizations” when they schedule their own summertime activities.

In organizing Saturday’s event, Ms. Marshall said the Friends decided to address a major issue addressing its writers. “Certainly, publishing has changed over the years,” she said. “Why not talk about what publishing has meant to them?”

All the participants, she added, have “presented at ‘Fridays at Five’ in different ways.’ We didn’t want to pick people who had only written a memoir. We wanted to concentrate on professional writers and we know Steven is a really good interviewer.”

This summer’s lineup of authors “looks great,” Ms. Marshall said. “There is a good variety of older and young writers.”

Tickets for Saturday’s anniversary event, which takes place at the library are $20 and can be purchased at the library. For more information call 537-0015.

 

The 2014 “Fridays at Five” Authors

July 11, Tom Clavin and Bob Drury, whose latest collaboration is “The Heart of Everything That Is: The Untold Story of Red Cloud, an American Legend.”

July 18,  E.L. Doctorow, the award-winning novelist, whose latest book is “Andrew’s Brain.”

July 25, Allen Salkin, the journalist, whose recent book “From Scratch: Inside the Food Network,” was named by NPR as one of the best books of 2013.

August 1, Alexandra Styron, the author of “Reading My Father: A Memoir,” which explores her life as the youngest daughter of the novelist William Styron.

August 8, Roger Rosenblatt, whose most recent book is “The Boy Detective.”

August 15, Kim Stolz, whose first book, “Unfriending My Ex: And Other Things I’ll Never Do,” was recently published.

August 22, Jon Robin Baitz, the playwright who is the author of “Other Desert Cities.”

August 29, Gail Sheehy, the author of many books, whose most recent is a memoir, “Daring: My Passages.”

“Fridays at Five” Talks take place on the back lawn of the Hampton Library in Bridgehampton at 5 p.m. on Fridays. Admission is $15. For more information, call 537-0015.

Julie Sheehan

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Star Black photo

Star Black photo

By Stephen J. Kotz

The director of Stony Brook Southampton’s MFA Program in Creative Writing talks about this summer’s upcoming Writers Conference, the deadline for which to enroll is Tuesday, April 1.

Can you give us an overview about what the Writers Conference is?

It is an intensive experience that centers on taking part in a writing workshop. When you apply you are applying for a specific workshop. And we offer them in poetry, fiction, memoir writing, playwriting. The workshop meets five times for two and half to three hours per day. The rest of your day you will take part in embarrassing and enriching readings, panels, performances, talks. It’s nonstop and we’ll have some really impressive authors coming in.

The whole vibe is beach. You won’t have much time to actually go to it—maybe you’ll get a chance to slip away one afternoon and stick your toe in the water. People work extremely hard, but it has a relaxed feel; it’s very soul enriching to be among 120 to 150 other writers. Plus, the dorms are available, so it’s cheapest 12 days you’ll ever get in the Hamptons.

Are there any new or special faculty members this year?

One of the great things about this is we’re in the Hamptons. From the faculty members’ view, it’s a paid vacation. This year we were able to get Terrance Hayes, a fantastic poet, very laid back, but  also a genius. Julia Glass is a terrific novelist. Libba Bray writes young adult novels. It was a coup to get her. She’s a big deal in the YA field. Two other new faces are Peter Lerangis, who also writes young adult fiction, Dan Yaccarino, who is known for his picture books and illustrations. A new face in playwriting is David Adjmi.

Then we have faculty who come every year: Billy Collins, Meg Wolitzer, Roger Rosenblatt, Matthew Klam, Patricia Marx, who collaborates with Roz Chast, The New Yorker cartoonist, on children’s books, Frederick Tuten, a novelist and short story writer who also writes art criticism, and Annette Handley Chandler, who teaches screenwriting.

What’s new this year?

There’s an introductory writers workshop that will be taught by an MFA student. It will be a chance to try your hand at range of genres. You can sign up and come and enjoy a writing workshop and not have any of the stress that come with the more intensive offerings.

I think there’s something about signing up that just sort of commands your muse. There is something about the mental act of signing up. You might not write anything beforehand, but when you get into that small group of 12 to 15 people, you get your work done.

There is a 12-day conference, from July 9 to 20, and a five-day “intensive” conference from July 9 to 13. Why do you do that?

We started doing that a couple of years ago. For some people finding 12 days, where you essentially have to take two weeks off from whatever you are doing, is difficult. We just found the five-day version of events would allow people to come who just can’t take that much time out of their lives.

 What does having this program do for the community and what does the community do for this program?

We try to make sure we keep our ties to the community strong. We have regular reading series on Wednesday and Thursday nights. Masha Gessen, who just wrote the book on Pussy Riot and blogs on events in Russia is coming this Wednesday, April 2 [at 7 p.m. in the Radio Lounge, as part of the Writers Speak series.] We want there to be a constant interchange between us and the community.

In turn the community is a great resource for us. There is a great community out here of writers, artists, filmmakers, playwrights, and actors. That’s where our guest list comes from. They have really enriched our students’ lives.

For more information, visit stonybrook.edu/southampton/mfa/summer.